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ness; an easy and surprising transition that is truly magical. Pope had not so enchanting a subject in The House of Fame; yet, with deference to Warton, that critic has done Pope injustice in assimilating his imitations of Chaucer to the modern ornaments in Westminster Abbey, which impair the solemn effect of the ancient building. The many absurd and fantastic particulars in Chaucer's House of Fame will not suffer us to compare it, as a structure in poetry, with so noble a pile as Westminster Abbey in architecture. Much of Chaucer's fantastic matter has been judiciously omitted by Pope, who at the same time has clothed the best ideas of the old poem in spirited numbers and expression. Chaucer supposes himself to be snatched up to heaven by a large eagle, who addresses him in the name of St. James and the Virgin Mary, and, in order to quiet the poet's fears of being carried up to Jupiter, like another Ganymede, or turned into a star like Orion, tells him, that Jove wishes him to sing of other subjects than love and "blind Cupido," and has therefore ordered, that Dan Chaucer should be brought to behold the House of Fame. In Pope, the philosophy of fame comes with much more propriety from the poet himself, than from the beak of a talkative eagle.
It was not until his green old age that Chaucer put forth, in the Canterbury Tales, the full variety of his genius, and the pathos and romance, as well as the playfulness of fiction. In the serious part of those tales he is, in general, more deeply indebted to preceding materials, than in the comic stories, which he raised upon slight hints to the air and spirit of originals. The design of the whole work is after Boccaccio's Decamerone; but exceedingly improved. The Italian novelist's ladies and gentlemen who have retired from the city of Florence, on account of the plague, and who agree to pass their time in telling stories, have neither interest nor variety in their individual characters; the time assigned to their congress is arbitrary, and it evidently breaks up because the author's stores are exhausted. Chaucer's design, on the other hand, though it is left unfinished, has definite boundaries, and incidents to keep alive our curiosity, independent of the tales themselves. At the same time, while the action of the poem is an event too simple to divert the attention altogether from the pilgrims' stories, the pilgrimage itself is an occasion sufficiently important to draw together almost all the varieties of existing society, from the knight to the artisan, who, agreeably to the old simple manners, assemble in the same room of the hostellerie. The enumeration of those characters in the Prologue forms a scene, full, without confusion; and the object of their journey gives a fortuitous air
to the grouping of individuals, who collectively represent the age and state of society in which they live. It may be added, that if any age or state of society be more favourable than another to the uses of the poet, that in which Chaucer lived must have been peculiarly picturesque ;—— an age in which the differences of rank and profession were so strongly distinguished, and in which the broken masses of society gave out their deepest shadows and strongest colouring by the morning light of civilisation. An unobtrusive but sufficient contrast is supported between the characters, as between the demure prioress and the genial wife of Bath, the rude and boisterous miller and the polished knight, &c. &c. Although the object of the journey is religious, it casts no gloom over the meeting; and we know that our Catholic ancestors are justly represented in a state of high good-humour, on the road to such solemnities.
The sociality of the pilgrims is, on the whole, agreeably sustained; but in a journey of thirty persons, it would not have been adhering to probability to have made the harmony quite uninterrupted. Accordingly the bad-humour which breaks out between the lean friar and the cherubfaced sompnour, while it accords with the hostility known to have subsisted between those two professions, gives a diverting zest to the satirical stories which the hypocrite and the libertine level at each other.
Chaucer's forte is description; much of his moral reflection is superfluous; none of his characteristic painting. His men and women are not mere ladies and gentlemen, like those who furnish apologies for Boccaccio's stories. They rise before us minutely traced, profusely varied, and strongly discriminated. Their features and casual manners seem to have an amusing congruity with their moral characters. He notices minute circumstances as if by chance; but every touch has its effect to our conception so distinctly, that we seem to live and travel with his personages throughout the journey.
What an intimate scene of English life in the fourteenth century do we enjoy in those tales, beyond what history displays by glimpses, through the stormy atmosphere of her scenes, or the antiquary can discover by the cold light of his researches! Our ancestors are restored to us, not as phantoms from the field of battle, or the scaffold, but in the full enjoyment of their social existence. After four hundred years have closed over the mirthful features which formed the living originals of the poet's descriptions, his pages impress the fancy with the momentary credence that they are still alive; as if Time had rebuilt his ruins, and were reacting the lost scenes of existence.
THE PROLOGUE TO THE CANTERBURY TALES.
WHANNE' that April with his shourès sote
The droughte of March hath perced to the rote",
Of Englelond, to Canterbury they wendek,
That hem hath holpen, whan that they were sekel.
Befelle, that, in that seson on a day, In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay, Redy to wenden on my pilgrimage To Canterbury with devoute coràge, At night was come into that hostelrie Wel nine and twenty in a compagnie Of sondry folk, by aventure yfallem In felawship, and pilgrimes were they alle, That toward Canterbury wolden" ride. The chambres and the stables weren wide, And wel we weren esed attè beste.
And shortly, whan the sonne was gon to reste,
But natheles, while I have time and space,
A KNIGHT ther was, and that a worthy man
At Alisandre he was whan it was wonne. Ful often time he hadde the bord' begonnes Aboven allè nations in Pruce.
In Lettowe hadde he reysed' and in Ruce, No cristen man so ofte of his degre.
In Gernade at the siege eke hadde he be
Whan they were wonne; and in the Gretè see
But for to tellen you of his araie,
e Them. i Holidays. n Would.
Alle besmotredw with his habergeon*,
With him ther was his sone a yongè Squier,
With lockès crully as they were laide in presse.
Embrouded was he, as it were a mede
He slep no more than doth the nightingale.
Curteis he was, lowly, and servisable, And carfe before his fader at the table.
A Yeman hadde he, and servantes no mo At that time, for him lustef to ride so; And he was cladde in cote and hode of grene. A shefe of peacock arwes bright and kene Under his belt he bare ful thriftily. Well coude he dresse his takels yemanly: His arwesh drouped not with fetheres low. And in his hond he bare a mighty bowe.
A not-hedi hadde he, with a broune visage. Of wood-craft coude he wel alle the usage. Upon his arme he bare a gaie bracèrk, And by his side a swerd and a bokeler, And on that other side a gaie daggère, Harneised wel, and sharpe as point of spere: A Cristofre on his brest of silver shene. An horne he bare, the baudrik was of grene, A forster was he sothely as I gesse.
Ther was alsò a Nonne, a Prioresse,
And Frenche she spake ful fayre and fetisly",
In curtesie was sette ful moche hire lest".
It was almost a spannè brode I trowe;
Ful fetise was hire cloke, as I was ware.
Ful many a deintè hors hadde he in stable :
The reule of Seint Maure and of Seint Beneit,
This is to say, a monk out of his cloistre.
What shulde he studie, and make himselven woodb
Or swinken with his hondès, and laboure,
As Austin bit? how shal the world be served?
I saw his sleves purfiled' at the hond With griss, and that the finest of the lond. And for to fasten his hood under his chinne, He hadde of gold ywrought a curious pinne; A love-knotte in the greter end ther was. His hed was balled, and shone as any glas, And eke his face, as it hadde ben anoint. He was a lord ful fat and in good point. His eyen stepeh, and rolling in his hed, That stemed as a fornëis of led. His botès souple, his hors in gret estat ; Now certainly he was a fayre prelat. He was not pale as a forpined gost. A fat swan loved he best of any rost. His palfrey was as broune as is a bery.
A Frere ther was, a wanton and a mery, A Limitour, a ful solempnè man.
In all the ordres foure is none that can'
w Of low stature.
X Neat. z Gave. a Mr. Tyrwhitt supposes, that this should be righelles, i. e. out of the rules by which the monks were bound. b Mad. e Hard rider. A fine kind of fur. i Knew.
c Toil. d Biddeth. f Wrought on the edge.
h Deep in the head.
So muche of daliance and fayre langage.
As saide himselfè, more than a curàt,
His tippet was ay farsed" ful of knives,
And over all, ther as profit shuld arise,
Ther n' as no man no wher so vertuous.
To make his English swete upon his tonge;
As don the sterrès in a frosty night.
A Marchant was ther with a forked berd,
Of hem, that yave him wherwith to scolaies.
A Sergeant of the Lawe ware and wise,
• A stringed instrument. 9 Have. r Poor people. s Farm. t Purchase. "Days appointed for the amicable settlement of differences. Half cloak.
Of fees and robès had he many on.
A Frankělein was in this compagnie ;
An housholder, and that a grete was he ;
At sessions ther was he lord and sire.
An Haberdasher, and a Carpenter,
Ful freshe and newe hire gere ypikidi
A Coke they hadden with hem for t To boile the chikenes and the marie b And poudre marchant, tart and galin Wel coulde he knowe a draught of Lo He couldè roste, and sethe, and broile Maken mortrewès, and wel bake a pie But gret harm was it, as it thoughtè m That on his shinne a mormal" hadde h For blanc manger that made he with t
A Shipman was ther, woneds fer by For ought I wote, he was of Dertèmou He rode upon a rounciet, as he couthe, All in a goune of falding to the knee. A dagger hanging by a las" hadde hee About his nekke under his arm adoun. The hote sommer hadde made his hewe And certainly he was a good felaw. Ful many a draught of win he haddè di From Burdeux ward, while that the chapr Of nice conscience toke he no kepe. If that he faught, and hadde the higher By water he sent hem home to every la But of his craft to reken well his tides, His stremès and his strandès him besidHis herberwe, his mone", and his lode Ther was none swiche, from Hull unto Hardy he was, and wise, I undertake : With many a tempest hadde his berd be He knew wel alle the havens, as they w Fro Gotland, to the Cape de finistere, And every creke in Bretagne and in SpHis barge ycleped was the Magdelaine.
With us ther was a Doctour of PhisilIn all this world ne was ther non him li. To speke of phisike, and of surgerie : For he was grounded in astronomie. He kept his patient a ful gret del In hourès by his magike naturel.
ef Their gear was spruce. g Every h Burgher. i The deis; a part of the hall that was fle set apart for a place of respect.-Tyrwhitt. j Fit. k Else. 1 Royally. m Sup n For the purpose. • The meaning not asc p Sweet cyperus. 9 A dish of rich broth, in which the meat was and the substance strained.